Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
What is psychology?
Psychology is defined as "the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context." It is a field of study related to human behavior and mental health. Many people decide to pursue a degree in psychology because it can give insight into the way that people operate. It can also be useful in an abundance of careers. Studying psychology doesn't necessarily mean that you'll become a psychologist, but it is a possibility. If you do choose to become a psychologist, counselor, therapist, or social worker, you have a rewarding career ahead of you.
What does a psychologist do?
Depending on what kind of psychologist they are, a psychologist may do many different things. The term psychologist covers a wide array of different mental health professionals and researchers. Since psychology is the study of the mind as it pertains to human behavior, anyone who falls into this field of research or practice is considered a psychologist. As a result, there are many different job descriptions for different types of psychologists. When most people think of a psychologist, the image of a therapist comes to mind: an expert in the connection between mind and behavior who helps people with mental illness or mental disorders, or who talks through problems and solutions with their patients. A clinical psychologist for example, can meet with patients for counseling or therapy. A clinical psychologist uses their knowledge of the connections between mind and behavior, as well as their grounding in theories of human behavior as it relates to brain function and mental processes, in order to offer treatment to patients. So, clinical psychology practitioners usually spend a lot of their time meeting with patients and delivering treatment in the form of therapy.
However, not all psychologists focus on providing treatment to patients. They could also choose to engage in the research side of the field. These psychologists study and are often involved in psychological research experiments that are constructed to collect hard data that provides insight into people’s mental processes and cognitive behavioral patterns. These psychological science experiments are tested and reviewed by the academic and research arm of the American Psychological Association and published as psychological research. This type of psychology is known as experimental psychology.
Experimental psychology often uses human subjects to test different theories and schools of thought that have been put forth to explain the mental processes underlying human behavior. Through experimental psychology, psychologists study different ways and means to both explain mental processes and treat patients who may be suffering from mental health issues. Experimental psychology also provides a way for psychologists to better understand how posited theories about topics such as mental processes, child development, human behavior, and public health in general play out in the real world.
There are many different kinds of therapists, psychologists, and counselors. A marriage and family therapist, for example, focuses on studying family structures or family-related concerns and working with systems. A child or pediatric psychologist, on the other hand, focuses on childhood development and working with children. A psychologist can work in a private practice setting, in an inpatient or outpatient facility, in a hospital setting, and more. Psychology careers vary dramatically depending on what you want to accomplish in your working life and what field of psychology you decide to pursue.
What are some of the different fields of psychology?
Some of the different fields of psychology are:
- Forensic psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Abnormal psychology
- Behavioral psychology
- Clinical psychology
- Comparative Psychology
- Cross-cultural psychology
- Educational psychology
- Experimental psychology
- Health psychology
- Social psychology
What's it like to study psychology in school?
When you study psychology in school, you can go into a variety of different careers. Studying psychology does not necessarily mean that you'll become a psychologist, though you may end up doing something related to mental health. Understanding human behavior and psychology can be helpful in a variety of jobs, including psychology-oriented research positions, helping professions, or something completely unrelated. Psychology is a dedicated field, so studying it requires concentrated effort. However, if you're passionate about it, your classes will likely be highly enjoyable. If you are looking to get a master's degree or a doctorate degree, studying psychology will be your main focus for 4-10 years. Psychology is an important and ever-growing domain, so if you're interested in going into it, you're making a good choice and are likely to help many people in your career.
What can a psychologist help you with?
A psychologist can help you with an abundance of issues related to mental health, interpersonal relationships, family, work, school, and any other concerns that arise in your life. You may see a counselor one on one, or you may engage in group therapy, couples counseling, or family therapy. The kind of counseling you pursue depends on your individual needs. Every psychologist is unique; some have an impeccably gentle approach, whereas others use tough love. Some will present information to you in a way that’s cut-and-dry, whereas others will let you come to your own conclusions. A therapist, counselor, or psychologist will nearly always have an area that is their specialty. Some may focus on trauma, whereas another could focus on family therapy or relationships. Psychologists must stay informed on emerging science related to psychology so that they can help people in the best way possible. If you see a psychologist that doesn’t click with you, don’t be afraid to seek a better fit.
If you need help with mental health concerns or other life issues, a counselor or therapist at ReGain can help. Online counseling is an excellent way to get the help that you need from a therapist, psychologist, or counselor at an affordable cost. In the United States, mental health treatment can be very expensive, so affordability is a wonderful benefit of remote counseling. The best thing about online counseling is that you can access it from the privacy of your own home. Whether you're dealing with a mental health condition, relationship concerns, or something else, a mental health provider can help.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are some explanations about the different types of psychology?
There are about sixteen different types of psychology and branches of psychology. As a whole, psychology is the study of the mind as it pertains to human behavior. There are many different applications and branches of psychology, even as defined by the American Psychological Association.
These different types of psychology focus more specifically on different aspects of the mind and human behavior. Here are the sixteen most common types of psychology:
- Abnormal Psychology: This branch of psychology focuses on abnormal behavior or mental processes, which encompasses behavior or thinking that doesn’t comply with the social or cultural norms. This can include mental illnesses or other cognitive behavioral issues. The clinical psychology arm of abnormal psychology seeks to treat the public health and mental health that arise as a result of antisocial thinking and behavior, while the experimental psychology and social psychology side of abnormal psychology tries to determine the biological roots of the abnormal behavior as well as how these behavior patterns are shaped by the environment and experiences of the patient.
- Behavioral Psychology: This is the specific area of psychology that studies the links between a person’s mind and their patterns of behavior. Basically, behavioral psychology encompasses the cognitive behavioral connections. There are a couple of popular experiments in the 20th century for behavioral psychology history, such as Pavlov’s dogs and American psychologist Watson’s Little Albert. In both of these examples, the subjects of the experiment – that is, the dogs and the young toddler – were exposed to different input and consequences. Over time, the subjects’ behavior changed when they were exposed to the input, even if the consequences never came. This is an example of behavioral therapy. In behavioral therapy, which is the clinical psychology application of behavioral psychology, a therapist uses positive psychology and targeted input to help the patient change their behavior patterns. Behavioral therapy often uses classical conditioning to explain and treat irrational fears, beliefs, or deeply-held convictions.
- Clinical Psychology: Clinical psychology describes the field in which psychologists or psychiatrists provide mental health treatment to patients. Clinical psychology can cover a wide range of conditions, and the causes and treatments for these conditions can overlap with other branches or areas of psychology. Clinical psychology plays a major role in the mental health of individuals, as well as in public health as a whole. The methods and treatments used in clinical psychology are based on psychological research and are approved by the American Psychological Association. Most of the psychological research and experimental psychology throughout the 20th century led to the development of psychotherapy. Sigmund Freud is considered to be the father of psychotherapy; the most common type of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most popular treatments applied in the field of clinical psychology. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves talking through the emotions and mental processes that lead to a patient’s behavior, and then analyzing how addressing the underlying feelings and thinking can change the behavioral output of the patient. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, the expectations and some of the techniques of psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy have developed and changed, but this area of psychology is still largely based on the work of Sigmund Freud and his contemporaries.
- Cognitive Psychology: Cognitive psychology is the branch of psychology that is specifically focused on thought processes. It takes into account the cognitive neuroscience part of things, too. Cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience look at the mental and biological aspects of memory, learning, and perception. This means that cognitive psychology, coupled with cognitive neuroscience, can give insight as to how people take risks or make big decisions. In terms of social psychology, cognitive psychology – as well as the underlying thought processes that cognitive psychology seeks to explain – can give great insight to how people might be expected to interact with others. According to Israeli American psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who combined experimental psychology with his school of thought, cognitive psychology gives specific insight into human error. His psychological research in the field of cognitive psychology has impacted more than just other American psychologist or psychology history. In fact, his school of thought and the other psychological research that it prompted has had a huge impact on a wide variety of fields, from political science to game theory to advertising and marketing. Cognitive psychology, along with its accompanying psychological research, has had a huge impact on psychology history throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century.
- Counseling Psychology: This area of psychology focuses specifically on the therapy and counseling that patients receive during times of change or loss in their lives. It can include things like grief counseling, marriage counseling, or therapy just before, during, or just after a big life change. It is different from clinical psychology in that the patients or people seeking counseling psychology treatment aren’t diagnosed with a mental illness or mental disorder. Instead, counseling psychology focuses on offering counseling and therapy for people with good mental health in order to help them to maintain decent mental health during stressful or potentially overwhelming circumstances in their life. This positive psychology approach gives people time and space to process stressful input that may be affecting their cognitive behavioral loop; this positive psychology allows people to get help through therapy or counseling so that they can have better control over their behavior patterns by having a professional help them examine their thought processes and feelings.
- Developmental Psychology: Developmental psychology is the field of study that focuses on how people grow, develop, and mature throughout their lives, and how this growth and development affects their thinking and behavior. It also looks at personal growth and development, comparing a person’s previous benchmarks and marking their improvement over time. Developmental psychology involves plenty of psychological research into the connection between a growing human’s biology, cognitive expansion, emotional maturity, and experience. In psychology history, Jean Piget is the leading figure for developmental psychology. According to Piget’s psychological research, he founded a school of thought which holds that children learn and develop best through experience, exploration, and active participation with their surroundings. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, new methods of education and therapy for children were developed as a result of his findings.
- Educational Psychology: This branch of psychology focuses mainly on all of the psychological factors that come into play in terms of learning, learning methods, and the acquisition of knowledge and skills. It also encompasses factors such as memory and learning disorders. So, it has a lot of overlap with cognitive psychology and social psychology. The psychological research related to educational psychology throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century has led to the rise (and fall) of many different teaching and instruction methods, as well as to the discovery and diagnosing of many different learning disabilities such as dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). The experimental psychology associated with education continues to make waves in areas such as schooling, higher education, technical training, and continuing professional development at all levels of society.
- Experimental Psychology: Experimental psychology is the arm of psychology that encompasses research based on experiments. Experimental psychology seeks to get answers about attention, reasoning, perception, and memory by studying subjects in controlled environments. American psychologist George Trumbull Ladd was the first to bring experimental psychology to the US in the 19th century, and his studies on experimental psychology focused mostly on perception. Another American psychologist, Charles S. Pierce, also studied perception using controlled experimental psychology. From there, throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, experimental psychology has grown and developed, thanks to contributions from countless psychologists and their psychological research. Experimental psychology has proven empirically many of the underlying thought processes that have a huge impact on human behavior. Treatments and experiments in the field of experimental psychology are subject to approval by the American Psychological Association. Furthermore, experimental psychology and its related psychological research has allowed for the creation and development of countless treatment options. Experimental psychology is a field that is constantly growing and evolving, thanks to the continuing development of psychological research in universities and institutions around the world.
- Forensic Psychology: This branch of psychology is where psychology and the legal system intersect. Forensic psychologists help with research and psychological evaluations when police, lawyers, or other parts of the legal system need help determining a person’s competence or getting information from a vulnerable or unstable witness. So, it has a lot of overlap with cognitive psychology and social psychology. Forensic psychologists are expertly trained to work in and around the legal systems that deal with crime, family and child services, and the courts. One of the leading psychologists in the field of forensic psychology is American psychologist Margaret Bull Kovera, who did extensive research about the psychological processes involved with identifying a suspect in a police lineup.
- Health Psychology: In this arm of psychology, psychologists look closely at the connections between physical or biological factors, social influences, and psychological factors as they pertain to physical health and wellbeing. This model, which was first put forward by American psychologist George Engel, claims that physical illness is often related to mental well-being. Psychologists who focus on health psychology often stress the importance of positive psychology on positive physical health, and vice versa. They also study the links between social psychology and personal health as it relates to an individual’s mental well-being.
- Human Factors Psychology: This field of psychology has a major impact on marketing, product design and development, and even transportation. That’s because human factors psychology focuses heavily on the way in which humans interact with their environment and other input in their environment. So, it has a lot of overlap with cognitive psychology and social psychology, because it affects how people make decisions as individuals and as a society.
- Industrial Organizational Psychology: Industrial organizational psychology is focused on the impact of industry and organizations on human behavior, and vice versa. Industrial organizational psychology takes into account how different factors in work situations can affect the decisions and behaviors of the individuals and the collective group. Industrial organizational psychology often focuses on the workplace, and seeks to provide insight as to how and why employees behave in certain ways when presented with different workplace conditions. Furthermore, industrial organizational psychology helps employers and businesses to create workplaces that are more beneficial to their employees’ mental well-being. Industrial organizational psychology can also provide solutions for employees who are struggling with work-life balance or who face a hostile working environment. The main goal of industrial organizational psychology is to identify the processes by which individuals and groups arrive at industrial organizational psychology related decisions. Furthermore, industrial organizational psychology focuses on the shared intelligence, or the overall intelligence that comes out of collaboration between many team members, and how this shared intelligence contributes to decision making, from the individual to the institutional level. American psychologist Anita Wooley is the forefront researcher when it comes to industrial organizational psychology.
- Personality Psychology: This field of psychology is dedicated to specific types of behaviors that might point to the presence of an underlying mental illness or disorder, such as aggression or conscientiousness. Personality psychology seeks to explain connections between a variety of factors, including expressed genes, thought processes, and patterns of behavior. By looking at the links between these factors, psychologists hope to draw larger and broader conclusions about the nature of human personality.
- School Psychology: The main goal of school psychology is to develop and improve ways to make learning environments safe places for students and scholars. It also seeks to define and improve different classroom and learning models so that the environment and delivery techniques are optimally suited for the natural psychological processes of the students. For this reason, school psychology is closely linked with both developmental psychology and social psychology.
- Social Psychology: Social psychology looks specifically at how individuals’ behavior and personalities contribute to social interaction and society as a whole. Social psychology also focuses on how societal factors, such as pressure or expectation from the social environment, impacts an individual’s behavior and mental processes. Many psychologists in the field of social psychology hold that a person’s behavior and mental processes are a result of social interaction and experiences in a social setting, rather than a predetermined part of a person’s personality. So, social psychology relies heavily on the culture and social environment in which a person lives in order to analyze a person’s behavior, feelings, and thinking. So, social psychology prefers to look at the wider picture: instead of looking at just the individual seeking treatment, social psychology looks at the wider social environment where that person lives.
- Sports Psychology: Sports psychology looks specifically at athletes and the role of sports in their decision making processes. It also provides specialists who can work with and talk with athletes about the sports related stressors and factors that contribute to their psychological health. Some of the findings in the field of sports psychology have been shown to be transferable to psychological issues related to other high-stress work environments and high-stakes jobs.
These specific areas of psychology are recognized by the American Psychological Association, which also notes that the field of psychology, both in terms of research and career opportunities, is on the rise.
What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?
Both psychologists and psychiatrists are experts in the study of the mind. However, the biggest difference between an American psychologist and a psychiatrist is that psychiatrists are certified medical doctors. This means that, if the need arises, a psychiatrist is licensed and able to prescribe medicine in addition to the other treatments and therapies that they are qualified to offer according to the American Psychological Association. On the other hand, while an American psychologist is licensed with the American Psychological Association to offer treatments and therapies, they are limited to treatment options that don’t involve prescription medication. For all guidance regarding medication, please consult a licensed medical professional.
Is a psychologist a therapist?
To put it simply, therapists can be psychologists, but not all psychologists are therapists. Psychology is the study of the mind as it pertains to human behavior. It takes into account the mental processes, brain function, and intentions that go along with decision making and problem solving in a variety of contexts and relationships. So, a psychologist is someone who participates in the research, practice, and application of psychology psychology related fields. These fields can include many different facets of social psychology, including mental processes, child development, human behavior, and public health in general.
Therapists focus mostly on the practice and application of psychology as it relates to treating their patients. Therapists who use what they know about psychology to treat people who suffer from mental illness, mental disorders, or any other psychological issue, are known as clinical psychologists. Clinical psychology is the application of psychology – along with broader scientific knowledge of mental processes and brain function – to treat mental illness and mental disorders. When it comes to mental health psychology, and specifically clinical psychology is a great treatment tool. The psychologists who practice clinical psychology are called clinical psychologists, but most people know them as “therapist.”
Is the psychologist a doctor?
While clinical psychologists are trained professionals in the field of mental health and clinical psychology, they are not doctors. Respectable clinical psychologists are accredited or certified by the American Psychological Association, but they aren’t doctors. This means that even though they can offer a wide variety of treatment options for their patients, they aren’t able to prescribe medicine. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are certified medical doctors, which means they’re able to prescribe medication if the need arises. This is the biggest difference between clinical psychologists and psychiatrists. For all guidance regarding medication, please consult a licensed medical professional.
Should I see a psychologist or psychiatrist for anxiety?
If you think that you’re suffering from anxiety – or from any other mental health issue, for that matter – seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist is a great way to start seeking treatment. Psychologists and psychiatrists have extensive training in the human behavior and mental processes related to mental health issues such as anxiety. Plus, they are certified with the American Psychological Association to provide a variety of treatment options for anxiety.
Should I go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist?
When you’re looking for mental health treatment options, the first step is deciding whether you’ll choose to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist. While both psychiatrists and psychologists are well-versed in clinical psychology and certified with the American Psychological Association, there is one big difference between the treatments that a psychiatrist can provide. This is because psychiatrists, in addition to being clinical psychologists, are also doctors. This means that a psychiatrist is able to prescribe medicine for a patient if the treatment requires. For all guidance regarding medication, please consult a licensed medical professional.
What do psychologists do in a day?
A psychologist’s day-to-day will look different based on what kind of psychologist they are. For example, someone working in experimental psychology will likely spend the bulk of their day at a university or research institution. There, they will design, conduct, and analyze the results of experiments and studies pertaining to human thought processes and behavior.
The more common image of a psychologist, though, is that of a clinical psychologist. This is the popular image people get, of someone like Sigmund Freud or a psychoanalyst. A clinical psychologist will spend a lot of time talking to their patients and doing therapy. Based on the specialization of the clinical psychologist, therapy can take many forms. However, most psychologists employ a method that largely involves talking to their patient, asking pointed guiding questions, taking notes, making observations, and analyzing the patient’s feedback.
Do psychologists actually help?
Most people who seek treatment from a psychologist, counselor, or therapist report that the treatment does, in fact, help. People seek help from psychologists and other mental health professionals for any number of reasons. In most cases, the psychologist will start with a consultation, no matter what kind of issue you’re seeking help for. During this consultation, the psychologist will ask pointed and specific questions about the issues that you’re seeking help for. Then, based on your answers, the psychologist will be able to recommend a course of treatment.
Remember, if you’re looking for a psychologist to help, it will take time to see the effects of the treatment. It usually takes several sessions before those seeking help report actual improvement in their situation, or at least in their perception of the situation. Patience is key when it comes to seeking help from a psychologist.